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News Worthy: Privileges Committee & Winston Peters

News Worthy - 8 August 2008 - No. 258


8 August 2008 - No. 258

Privileges Committee and Winston Peters

The Speaker has referred issues relating to the $100,000 payment towards Winston Peters' legal bill by billionaire Owen Glenn and whether it should have been declared by the MP.

This is the first referral of a privileges issue to the Committee in this Parliament.

The Privileges Committee does not have decision-making authority - it reports to Parliament with its recommendation.

* The Committee hears evidence in public

* It endeavours to conduct its proceedings in accordance with normal judicial principles

* It does not regard itself as being confined to considering only issues referred to by the Speaker in making its ruling

* In general it has accepted that the civil law standard of proof on a balance of probabilities is appropriate when it is making decisions on matters of fact or inference.

Parliament has wide ranging powers of punishment including the power to imprison. This power has been used by the House of Commons in England on literally hundreds of occasions. There has been no instance in New Zealand of imprisonment although a proposal was debated in Parliament in 1896 that the President of the Bank of New Zealand who had refused to answer certain questions put to him by a Select Committee be imprisoned. The proposal was defeated and a fine imposed on the President instead.


A "welter" of websites

As children we were tasked to memorise collective nouns - a school of whales, a pride of lions etc. Now we have a welter of websites.

Two websites this week had interesting material on them. The Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment noted the average person in 1800 was not materially better off than his counterpart 10,000 years earlier. Prior to about 1776, wellbeing measured by food, clothing, shelter, and heat varied across societies, but was generally miserable.

Last April, Yale Press published historian Emily Cockayne's Hubbub: Filth, Noise, and Stench in England, 1600-1770. The book recounts normal assaults to the eyes, ears, nose, taste, and skin in pre-Industrial Revolution cities. People experienced smallpox, refuse rotting in streets, and domestic animals roaming free. Lacking knowledge of disease and parasites, food hygiene was abominable-and often fatal.

In A World Lit Only by Fire, William Manchester gives this account of life in renaissance Europe. Dwellings were constructed of "...thatch, wattles, mud, and dirty brown wood.... Beneath its sagging roof were a pigpen, a henhouse, cattle sheds, corncribs, straw and hay, and, last and least, the family's apartment, actually a single room whose walls and timbers were coated with soot.... The centerpiece of the room was a gigantic bedstead, piled high with straw pallets, all seething with vermin." Everyone slept there. And these were the prosperous peasants.

For thousands of years, there was no upward trend. Not until the mid 1800s did cities replace their populations through natural increase.

People find these facts astounding; we take wealth and progress as given

The Maxim Institute website had an audio clip of a speech by Professor Jeremy Waldron - Parliamentary recklessness; Why we need to legislate more carefully -

He suggests that New Zealand has stripped safeguard after safeguard away from its legislative process-leaving it with virtually none of the safeguards that most working democracies take for granted.

Professor Waldron said:

"We defend the stripping away of each safeguard by pointing to some other system that doesn't have it. But we only ever consider them one by one, without considering how many of these safeguards we have stripped away and how anomalous it is in the world to have a legislature with such untrammelled powers."

"No quorum, no second chamber, no requirement to attend in order to vote, no judicial review, no real independence from the executive and constant recourse to urgency. It may be possible to justify each of these features considered in itself, but we must consider their cumulative effect on the quality of public debate."

"New Zealand's Parliament has become a place where preordained positions are stated, with hopefully as little fuss and as little public expense as possible. Parliament-the one forum dedicated to public debate-is becoming the one place where public debate has become perfunctory-a simple matter of political posturing."

A picky point - but there is a quorum requirement. Standing Order 38 says there has to be a quorum of one. A Minister has to be present at all sitting hours of the House. I have yet to see the quorum so reduced.


Political Quote of the Week

"The teacher is one who makes two ideas grow where only one grew before"

- Elbert Hubbard - American writer, publisher, artist, and philosopher.


ENDS

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